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Fourth International, July-August 1947



Recent Development in Austria


From Fourth International, July-August 1947, Vol.8 No.7, pp.218-219.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Although Austria’s wealth is insignificant, since nothing is plentiful except for the salt in Salzburg and the water of the Danube, Austria’s geographic position – it is a link with the Balkans on the one side and Central and Western Europe on the other – places it in a position of great political importance, Austria may become either a channel or a barrier for the revolutionary wave from the East and the West.

The mass working class party of Austria, the Social Democrats, played an important role in the Second International. This party provided some of Social Democracy’s outstanding theoreticians: Otto Bauer, Victor Adler and Max Adler, and created a theoretical school of its own, Austro-Marxism. “Red Vienna” became the model of reformist achievement.

In 1933, one of the best organized Social Democratic parties capitulated to a handful of fascist gangsters. The party rank and file felt in their bones the great strength of the party and were looking forward to a showdown with the fascists. After a series of provocations, the rank and file became fed up with the policy of retreat and several hundred members of the Social Democratic Schutzbund struck back when the fascist Heimwehr tried to disarm them. This was the spark that set off the heroic fight in February 1934.

The working class of Austria felt very clearly that they had not been defeated in straight class fight, but that they had been betrayed by their own party leadership. They knew that not even one-tenth of the energy of the working class had been mobilized to defeat fascism and establish a socialist regime. Only this explains why the working class did not fall into apathy, as usually happens after a heavy defeat, but instead drew the conclusion that it was not the strength of reaction, but the weakness of their own party that was responsible for the defeat. A wholesale flight from reformism followed. Entire districts of Social Democrats joined the Communist Party, which in their minds, was the sole revolutionary alternative to reformism.

The mass flight in 1934 from the Social Democracy to the Communist Party was, in the minds of the masses, a step from reformism to revolution. By then the Third International had already entered its People’s Front period; but this line was difficult to apply to Austria. Hitler was supposed to be the only working class enemy, but the Austrian working class was suffering under the terror of their own fascist regime. For the Austrian CP refugees in Paris it was of course very easy to follow the People’s Front policy. They sent an invitation to the Social Democrats in Pans to participate in a Dollfuss memorial meeting. But in Austria it was not so easy. It was this treacherous People’s Front policy that made it possible for the left Social Democratic party, the Revolutionäre Sozialisten (RS) under the leadership of Otto Bauer, to make headway. The People’s Front line of the CP laid the foundation for nationalistic propaganda that surpassed even the worst excesses of the Second International.

With the outbreak of the war the Stalinists fostered an Austrian nationalism comparable only to Ehrenburgism. There was nobody they were not prepared to join with in the fight against “the Germans.” (In England the Stalinist cover organizations, the Austrian Center, was run by Austrian Stalinists and Royalists.) The only thing lacking was an anthem such as Österreich, Österreich Über alles.”

When the war reached its climax the Stalinists already had less influence in Austria than the RS. A resistance movement called ’05’ developed in the course of the war, which represented all the “democratic” forces: RS, CP, Catholics, (today the People’s Party), Democratic Block (representatives of industry, finance and the free professions). The RS was unquestionably the strongest force. The RS resistance units based themselves on cells in factories, which inevitably gave a class character to their actions. To indicate the activity of the Austrian resistance, we shall quote from London Information, the official paper of the Austrian Socialist Democrats and RS in London:

February 24, 1945: A demonstration of about 8,000 Viennese (mostly women), in front of the Ankerbrotfabrik, (a large bakery). German troops fire into the crowd. Members of the Resistance return the fire. 41 demonstrators and 11 German soldiers were killed.”

January 27, 1945: Shooting in the street of D’Orsaygasse in Vienna, when a Resistance group was rounded up by the Gestapo. 17 men of the Gestapo and SS killed. 4 members of the Resistance killed and 3 missing.”

With the progress of the war, the exploited people of Austria looked to the Red Army as their future liberator. A week before Stalin announced the “liberation” of Vienna on April 13, 1945, the Moscow radio broadcast: “Unlike the Germans in Germany, the Austrian population resisted the evacuation orders given by the Germans, remained on the spot, and hospitably met the Red Army as liberators of Austria from the Hitler yoke” (Radio Moscow, April 8, 1945). “Every report from Austria confirms that the people welcome the Red Army joyfully as liberators” (Radio Moscow, April 13, 1945).

One week after the “liberation;’ Renner arrived in Vienna with the consent of the Red Army. He described the situation as follows:

“I found in Vienna the foundation of a new democratic city government already laid, and the only task remaining was the establishment of a central government for the whole country. All progress since then achieved is due to the concrete action by the democratic parties.” (London Times, August 6, 1945).

Concerning the period between the breakdown of the Nazi defense in Vienna and its occupation by the Red Army, Leonid Pyervomaisky, in a dispatch to Pravda gives the following picture:

The events of the last days have confirmed the reports that the population of Vienna actively resisted the German occupants who wanted to evacuate the population to Germany, to transfer the factories and to transform Vienna itself into a fortress – that is, to condemn her to certain destruction. But the Austrians do not want to resist the Red Army. They greet us with joyful cordiality. Flags are flying in the streets. At street crossings Austrian patriots are on traffic duty with rifles, which they have captured from the Germans. (London Information, April 22, 1945).

Renner’s reference to “the foundation of a new democratic city government already laid” and the Pravda dispatch constitute evidence that the workers of Vienna immediately snatched the initiative from the Nazis in order to establish their own city administration. The Red Army used Renner to curb the initiative of the Viennese, and to put the administration into the hands of a government of National Unity (3 Social Democrats, 3 People’s Party, 2 Communist Party, and 2 “non-Party”).

The Communist Party

The wholesale looting, raping and removal of industrial plants did not contribute to the popularity of the Red Army. It was the Red Army’s victory occupation of Austria that led to the rebirth of Austro-Marxism. “The Red Army has defeated the Austrian Communist Party,” they now say in Vienna.

The Austrian Communist Party had all possible means at its disposal to become a mass party. The Communist shop stewards had more rations for their workers than the Social Democratic shop stewards. They had priority in housing for their party headquarters, plenty of money, etc. But all this was not decisive. What proved decisive was the attitude toward the occupation armies, and to the reconstruction of the country.

The Sozialistische Partei (Socialist Party) has been reconstituted by the reunited Austrian Social Democrats who had split in 1934 into the RS (Otto Bauer) and the old right wing Social Democrats. This party was the only alternative that the workers saw to the Communist Party.

As already indicated, the CP had two tasks to fulfill: First, to defend and justify the Red Army unconditionally; and secondly, to promote Stalin’s policy of “National Unity.”

The Propeller Kommunisten (this is the name the Viennese give to the Communists who were flown from Moscow to Vienna) were well prepared for the tasks ahead. Thus, “Propeller Kommunist”, Erwin Zucker, known on the Moscow radio as Franz Schilling, “answered” the complaints of the Viennese that the Red Army was denuding the country, in the following manner:

“It is the old story of the boy who shows his frost-bitten hands on a cold winter’s day and says: ‘Serves my father right that my fingers are frozen; why did he not buy me any gloves?’ Is it not exactly the same thing if people, instead of pulling on their socks and working, prefer rather to count the cattle which are being delivered to the Russians, and get impatient if the fat allocation sometimes has to be postponed a few days?” (London Information, August 1, 1945).

To grasp the cynicism of this speech, we have only to cite a report on living conditions in Austria.

Too weak to work – workers in the big Bemdorf engineering works are collapsing at their machines and are no longer capable of carrying out their heavy work, a delegation from Lower Austria told the Provincial Government.” (London Information, November 15, 1945.)

It was on the basis of this betrayal that the SP has been able to pose with considerable success as the only socialist alternative to the CP In their propaganda the SP leans completely on the pre-1934 tradition. A socialist poster in Vienna reads: “Wir haben Wien schon gemacht. Wohnbauten. Fürsorge. Mistabfuhr.” (“We have made Vienna beautiful. Houses, Social Welfare, Garbage Collecting.”) All the SP periphery organizations have been revived. The party pledges itself to pursue a social and economic policy: heavy taxation of the rich, social welfare, houses, education. It is significant that the leading personnel of today were leaders before 1934. All of them remained in Austria over the last twelve years, in contradistinction to the whole CP leadership, which has returned after twelve years in Moscow.

The SP leadership promises to rebuild Austria without the “use of violence.” Since only the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system can free the tremendous energy of the masses for the rebuilding of Austria and Europe, and since the SP has pledged itself not to “use violence,” there is no other course for the SP leadership than to crawl before the big capitalist countries. Despite the fact that the SP is being used as the tool of Western imperialism, the majority of the SP membership believes in socialism as the only alternative to rotting capitalism. This finds its reflection in some of the articles and speeches of leading Social Democrats.

The May Day appeal of the Social Democrats reads:

“(We must) ... again resume the struggle for the realization of socialism with all the fervor and devotion of which we are capable.” This appeal ends by expressing “the feeling of profound solidarity with the working people of all lands and all nations” (London 1nformation, July 15, 1945).

Renner, who it must be remembered, is the representative of the right wing, stated in his address to the Socialist conference on October 26, 1945:

“Today socialism is no longer the matter of a country. Today it is the one really effective program in the whole world. We have entered the epoch of the realization of socialism. ... We are not over-aged. Socialism is young, socialism is only now coming into its own ... Ours is the watchword: ‘No more wars!’”

This part of the speech was intended for the internal consumption of the young revolutionary elements in the party.

The developing left wing is cause for alarm among the Social Democratic leadership and the capitalist class.

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Last updated on 16.2.2009